Solo parent

Week 7 – Managing Money as a Solo Parent

P.T. Barnum once said, “Money is a terrible master but an excellent servant.” When money overpowers you, you don’t sleep. You feel constantly insecure, fearful, resentful, and out of control. You can’t help but grow in bitterness, comparing your own hard knocks to the perceived wealth and ease of others. Being mastered by money is misery.

To overpower the concept and the beast that is “money”—regardless of how much you have—is to bring it to heel, alongside you. To put it to work in favor of your security rather than letting it stand between you and contentedness. Being a master of money is freedom.

These are extraordinary times. The world is in perpetual conflict. Inflation is rampant, the supply chain is unreliable, and many among our population seems to have lost the will to work—all exacerbated by our government’s pandemic response. We see the sum effect in the price of every gallon of gas, carton of milk, or pound of butter.

For solo parents living on a single income, it’s a daily battle. It’s weighing what we can and can’t afford and seeing the second column grow with no end in sight.

Comedian Chris Rock grew up poor and became wealthy. He defines abundance as not having a lot of money, but about having “a lot of options.” And that’s why we don’t sleep when mastered by money. It’s not only being out of money, as true as that may be. It’s the tension of being out of options and raising kids in that vacuum.

Today, we’re going to talk about an options-rich mentality. Stretching, focusing, and shifting priorities to counter extraordinary times.

Taking Inventory

Regaining control over money is a practice of handling what you have with intention in two ways:

● Head knowledge: be proactive, energized, and deliberate in managing your income and expenses
● Heart knowledge: contemplate how you feel when you talk about and deal with your money

Most of us evade the practical details because of how money makes us feel. We carry deep trepidation and shame. It’s tangled up with our self-narrative: that we are or are not successful or talented, that we are or are not a good partner or worthy of love or regard.

Financial chaos does follow relationship chaos. That’s the reality we all face. Divorce, broken relationships, loss, or a co-parent’s decisions impacts you and your kids. Some of us take on that chaos, internalizing it as negative conclusions about us and our failures. But there is a choice: we can reckon with money, or we can let money reckon with us. We can get organized.

According to Dave Ramsey, financial expert and author of Total Money Makeover, your finances are only 20% head knowledge and 80% your behavior. Or, as Walt Disney put it: “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

We don’t need to be experts. We don’t need to read a hundred books or understand the stock market. We only need to prioritize financial awareness and set some goals.

Head knowledge is the straightforward beginning. Set your feelings aside and roll up your sleeves to assess the money you’ve got coming in, and the money going out. The heart takes a cue from the head. The more empowered you are—no longer burying your head in the sand—the calmer you can be in your feelings about money (and, thus, your feelings about yourself). And the more you change your behavior, the more you see rewards—a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Talking about money and facing the reality of your financial situation is hard. You may be reluctant to come face-to-face with past wounds and current anxieties. “Out of sight, out of mind” feels better in the short term, but only digs the hole deeper in the long term. If you had a time machine, we’d say there’s no better time to get organized around money than years ago. But you don’t. So there’s no better time than right now.

Share Time:

When talking about finances, what feelings come up for you? Do you feel fear, shame, anger, confidence, or apathy?

How to Handle Your Money Intentionally

1) Document your assets and income.

Open an Excel file or any app that allows you to list and add. First, record your assets—anything you own that has value. This includes your car, house, or retirement accounts. Then write down your net income from all sources. Consider every source of income you have for the next year, including paychecks from your current job(s), child support, or alimony.

2) Document your expenses.

As dieters often underestimate their own caloric intake, we tend to underestimate how much money we habitually spend. For the unvarnished truth with no guesswork, download a tracking app such as Quicken (or google “best budget apps” for alternate recommendations), and build up a visual picture of your spending. Categorize your expenses into essential non-negotiables (mortgage or rent, utilities, insurance, gas), essentials that can be budgeted (groceries, school supplies, or kids’ clothes), and extras (restaurants, shopping, hobbies, travel, or entertainment subscriptions). You’ll be surprised with what you discover and by the useful insight. A clear picture of where you are right now is the foundation of your plan. Don’t shy away from it.

3) Develop a plan.

Author Natasha Munson wrote, “Money, like emotions, is something you must control to keep your life on the right track.” Once you’ve got a clear picture of your income and expenses, create a plan using this basic principle: You cannot spend more than you make. Rather than looking ahead for a full year, plan for one manageable easy-to-track month at a time. Once you get used to the routine of budgeting, you can expand to a longer time frame, adjusting for any changes along the way.

4) Reduce unnecessary spending.

Now that you know the gap between your intake and your outflow of money—and you’ve covered non-negotiable essentials first—find opportunities to save. We can get creative with essentials such as groceries (meal planning, switching to a more affordable store, or using a deep freeze to take advantage of bulk buying or sales). And we can cut back on non-essential spending, once we realize just how much we’re living beyond our means. That can be a depressing thing to have to do when we’re accustomed to our favorite treats, vacations, or comfort shopping, but it’s not as depressing to control spending as it is to hit a wall. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.”

If you’re already overdrawn and can’t pay the bills with your current income, call your debtors to arrange payment plans. But don’t make promises you can’t keep. Pay the negotiated bills once they arrive. Or call your bank to ask if you can consolidate your mortgage with other credit lines or debt to make payments more manageable. If you’re in a tight spot, also consider the gains of downsizing, selling items you don’t need. Steps like these may be humbling, but it’s empowering to gain more stability.

5) Remember you’re not alone—especially these days.

The process of understanding your income and expenses and developing a plan is likely to make you anxious. This would be true for anyone, but especially for those of us solo parents with more complicated circumstances. When we’re overwhelmed, we avoid—especially when we dread what we might discover, or dread the measures we’ll need to take. There’s a relief in rolling up your sleeves. Especially if it’s been a long time coming. Like the effort of cleaning up a mess. Once we start, we’re energized by how good it will feel to see a clean room. Take it one step at a time. Knowledge is power, and that empowerment is much bigger than anything we dread.

Share Time:

What is one strategy that you have used to overcome anxiety about money?

6) Save some, give some.

Practice the idea of paying yourself first. Financial experts suggest saving 10% of your income. If that’s too much, start with 5%, but be consistent. And though it can feel impossible when you’re already stretched, a practice of giving brings peace to your soul and sets a good example for your children. It reminds you that even when your resources are limited, you still have something to offer. If you don’t give now, you won’t give when you get more. Generosity is a discipline.

7) Find support and accountability.

Rolling up our sleeves to contend with our money means difficult decisions, sacrifices, and humility. In addition to seeking out free public resources such as the military’s financial readiness programs, seek mentors. Find someone you admire and trust who strikes you as being financially savvy, and who aligns with your values. They need not support you spiritually or emotionally, but they can act as an accountability partner, sounding boards, and source of encouragement.

Share Time:

Do you have someone you trust that you can talk to about important areas like finances and personal growth? How did you connect with them?

8) Look to God.

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.”

Center yourself. Remember that while money can make stress, it’s no guarantee of happiness. With a clear picture and a good plan, relieve the stress and stay focused on the immaterial things, moments, and experiences that fulfill you. Trust God as the provider of those, and of the calm core that helps you meet any uncertainty. When you pray, start by giving thanks for what you do have. That might be resources, however small; helpful friends; a kind boss; unexpected side-gigs; or an ex with a flexible schedule. Start from a place of gratitude always.

Handling your money well—especially if these practices are new for you— won’t happen overnight. That’s okay. Start where you are. Start with what you have. Seek support so you aren’t walking this road alone. And always
remember: God loves you and your children deeply, and He is with you every step of the way.

Further Action Step:

Take time this week to ask God to help you identify the next step in your finances that would honor Him. Consider following the steps outlined in this session to develop a one-month financial plan, including saving and giving each month. Journal what you discover.